minstrel: Beginning harp books

Holly Linette at epix.net
Sat Dec 1 09:37:46 PST 2001

Greetings from Linette de Gallardon!

At 03:31 PM 11/30/01 -0700,Vivien wrote:
>Tibicen wrote:
><<I have now had a chance to observe a beginning harper trying to "Teach
>Himself to Harp" from Sylvia Woods' book.  I am severely not
>impressed.  Indeed, I am finding myself writing exercises for two
>local beginning harpers, to try to back-fill over the stuff Sylvia
>Woods skips.  I Am Not A Harper[*]: this is absurd.  Can someone
>recommend a better beginner's book?>>
>Absolutely.  In fact, anything *but* Sylvia Woods.

I've been really surprised by the level of unenthusiasm for Sylvia's 
book.  I learned to play on it and felt good about it, and have recommended 
it ever since.  But I already played several instruments and read music, 
and given the above comments, I'm definitely going to look at something 
else to recommend.

>I would specifically
>recommend a combination of Alison Kinnaird's _Small Harp Tutor_ and Ann
>Heymann's _A Gaelic Harper's First Tunes_, which is essentially the first
>half of her _Secrets of the Gaelic Harp_.  Note that Alison's theory is a
>little weak (she refers to a B diminished chord as a B minor chord, for
>example).  Ann and Alison both teach traditional ornamentation as opposed to
>Ms. Woods' tertian tonal harmony.

Are these for wire harps or nylon/gut?  Most of the time I'm recommending a 
book for someone who wants to play nylon (which is what my father's harps 
are strung with).  Traditional ornamentation is good if the person desires 
to play late or OOP music from the various Celtic cultures, but it wouldn't 
be necessarily more appropriate for someone who intended to play, for 
instance, trouvere music.  I, for instance, have little desire to play 
traditional Irish or Celtic music (*love* to listen to it - don't bite my 
head off! - just don't play it) so the above books would not appeal to me 
as a beginner or at a more advanced level.  Mind you, a lot of people 
aren't really sure where they're going with the harp when they first start 
it, or change their minds significantly after a little while with it.

>They also teach very strong placement


>Alternatively, Laurie Riley has a beginner's book out that is published by
>Mel Bay, and it's pretty good.  Her placement is strong, and she includes
>some early music.

Another point I think needs to be made is that "placement" as we know it 
may well be a modern concept.  There's not a lot on early harp technique, 
and what little extant treatises we have are from fairly late.  I've read 
and been told in workshops that there's evidence or theories that, for 
instance, the ring finger wasn't used; that runs might have been handled in 
a way very differently than the modern harper might.  Much of the details 
may be debatable, but it is something that a harper will want to consider 
if they have a specific repetoire they was to concentrate on.

None of this is saying that the above books aren't good books, or that they 
aren't better than Sylvia Woods' book, which I suspect they are.  Or that 
learning good modern technique will not help a harper to play well, even 
when they learn period techniques that may differ.  But those books may 
still not apply to every harper within the SCA.  Which would be true for 
just about any book!

I really wish that some of the harpers I know who are working on technique 
books would get going & publish them!  I would really like to see a book 
which would address technique and performance issues based on research 
within period, preferably covering earlier period as well as the better 
documented later Celtic and Welsh styles.  I know there's Andrew King's 
book, but his book bugs me on several levels and I'm sure someone could do 
something more pertinent to the SCA.

Anyway, just a little rambling when I really should be doing work!  We 
should copy this conversation over to the ScaHarpers list!


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